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Supporting imprisoned women who self-harm: exploring prison staff strategies

Tammi Walker (Faculty of Health Psychology and Social Care, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Jenny Shaw (University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Lea Hamilton (Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, Manchester, UK)
Clive Turpin (Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, Manchester, UK)
Catherine Reid (University of Newcastle, Newcastle, UK)
Kathryn Abel (University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 7 November 2016



The purpose of this paper is to explore the experiences of prison staff working with imprisoned women who self-harm in English prisons. In this small-scale study, 14 prison staff in three English prisons were interviewed to examine the strategies currently used by them to support imprisoned women who self-harm.


Thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) was used to identify three key themes: “developing a relationship”, “self-help strategies” and “relational interventions”.


Many staff expressed some dissatisfaction in the techniques available to support the women, and felt their utility can be restricted by the prison regime.

Research limitations/implications

This study suggests that there is currently a deficit in the provision of training and support for prison staff, who are expected to fulfil a dual role as both custodian and carer of imprisoned women. Further research into prison staff’s perception of the training currently available could highlight gaps between current theory and practice in the management of self-harm and thus indicate content for future training programmes. Research exploring the impact of working with imprisoned women who self-harm is suggested to identify strategies for supporting staff. It must be acknowledged that this is a small-scale qualitative study and the findings are from only three prisons and may not apply to staff in other settings.


Currently few studies have focussed on the perspective of prison staff. This study is one of very few studies which focusses on the techniques and resources available to support the women, from the perspective of the prison staff.



Conflicts of interest: the authors declare no conflict of interest.

The authors would like to thank all the prison staff who participated in the research and the prison service for allowing us to conduct the research.


Walker, T., Shaw, J., Hamilton, L., Turpin, C., Reid, C. and Abel, K. (2016), "Supporting imprisoned women who self-harm: exploring prison staff strategies", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 173-186.



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